What are the biggest questions for the Orioles this spring?

What are the biggest questions for the Orioles this spring?
January 28, 2013, 9:15 am
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Pitchers and catchers report to Sarasota, Fla. in just over two weeks, and while the rest of Baltimore will obsess over the Ravens this week, the Orioles will be getting ready for the spring after.

There are still a few questions that remain, and more will pop up along the way. The Orioles could be announcing the signing of Jair Jurrjens today, and he’ll add, in a good way, to the questions.

1) Who will be the surprise among the camp’s pitchers?

Jurrjens could begin the year at Norfolk because he has options remaining. Tsuyoshi Wada could start on the disabled list. The two candidates for biggest surprise are Steve Johnson and T.J. McFarland.

Johnson has always been underrated, and last year impressed in limited opportunities. As a Rule 5 draft choice, McFarland will be given every chance to make the team as a starter—or a left-handed reliever.

Keep an eye on Zach Clark. He’s the University of Maryland-Baltimore County pitcher who at 29, makes his way to major league spring training for the first time. He’s unlikely to make the team, but has a good chance to finally pitch in the big leagues.

2) Is Dan Duquette finished signing players?

The betting is that Duquette still has a Wilson Betemit or Endy Chavez up his sleeve. Both Betemit and Chavez signed just before spring training last season, and maybe there’s a Kelly Johnson, Casey Kotchman or Carlos Lee available at the right price.

Joe Saunders was supposed to have chosen his team last week. He didn’t. Presumably Jurrjens’ signing makes Saunders’ return unlikely, but maybe he’ll be back, too.

3) Is Brian Roberts really ready to play?
This will probably be the final spring this question is asked. Roberts is in the final year of a four-year, $40 million contract, and in the first three years, he’s played just 115 games.

Hoping against hope, the Orioles bravely say they expect him to play many more games than he has in the previous three.

Roberts had hernia surgery last month, and it complicated his recovery from hip surgery.

One major league scout thinks that Jonathan Schoop is ready to play in the major leagues. He’ll probably not break camp with the Orioles. Alexi Casilla, Ryan Flaherty and Yamaico Navarro are there if Roberts isn’t ready.

4) What will be the most tiresome question of spring training?

Buck Showalter’s contract is dealt with. Matt Wieters is probably a year or so away from a lucrative new contract. Adam Jones will be away from camp for a few weeks because of the World Baseball Classic.

Can the Orioles repeat their magic from last season? That will be asked endlessly. A close second will be: How can you guys contend since you didn’t make any moves in the off-season?

The players aren’t in charge of moves. Many were unhappy that Mark Reynolds was non-tendered. He was a popular guy in the clubhouse.  However, most players will happily play with whoever is put in the clubhouse.

Once the team loses three in a row for the first time, the silly panic questions will commence. I can’t wait.

5) Who will be the Opening Day starter?

After Jeremy Guthrie was traded last year, there were several candidates to start Opening Day.  Jake Arrieta was chosen, and after a strong start, found himself in the minors. He’ll be fortunate to start the season with the team.

Wei-Yin Chen and Jason Hammel are the two obvious picks. Chen was the most effective starter last year, and Hammel the most effective when he wasn’t hurt.

We’ll be asking Showalter soon after camp begins. He can’t wait.